'He inspired people to use the ingredients of their lives': Remembering meditation teacher Michael Stone

He was a meditation teacher who struggled with mental illness and died with fentanyl in his system. His friend, Erin Robinsong, spoke to Metro Morning about the impact he had on those around him.

Toronto-born Michael Stone died of overdose in Victoria, B.C., to the shock of those who knew him

Michael Stone died earlier this month after taking a "street drug" his partner says may have contained fentanyl. He was married with children. (Michael Stone/Facebook/Caitlin Strom)

Michael Stone's death came as a shock to those who knew him. He died of a suspected overdose, with preliminary toxicology tests showing the presence of fentanyl in his body at the time of death.

Stone was a meditation instructor who grew up in Toronto. He had a global following, but almost nobody knew that he struggled with bipolar disorder. 

CBC Radio's Metro Morning spoke with Erin Robinsong, a friend of Stone's, on Friday about his legacy. The interview has been edited for clarity.

What was he like?

He was so fresh, so generous, so thoughtful in really the most fun and deep ways.

I think a lot of our relationship was based on a deep love of books. If one of us read something we loved we would alert the other.

He had the most incredible taste. He loved Maggie Nelson, Philip Whalen. He had a beautiful mind.

We went to concerts. He was a beautiful artist and gave pretty much everything he ever made away, so it's all dispersed.

I think that our friendship got real when my best friend was dying in 2010, and he just offered me ways to think about death that were the most helpful I've ever received.

What did he say?

Mostly he gave me 12th-century Japanese poems. But not in any kind of obtuse-teacher way, but because they were helpful.

He also could just talk about death in a way that was so real and opened up my thinking about it in a way that I had no language for before. It's so unbelievable for me that this has happened

It's also strange that so many tools he gave me and other people, we now have to use for him.

How would you describe his impact on people?

Pretty immense. For me, it felt a bit like what good art could do for people, in a person. He really opened up frames for people.

He inspired people to use the ingredients of their lives. He reminded people that what they needed was not really a better improved version of themselves some time in the future, but this idea also that this is part of the problem, that there's something to fix or improve.

Stone taught seminars and hosted workshops across Canada before his death. (Michael Stone/Facebook)

But really that by attending to our lives differently, just as they are, that that is medicine, maybe.

His impact was the best medicine. And I think it was very individual for people and it was so inspiring. And I think it will continue to be.

When did you first understand that he was struggling with bipolar disorder?

He told me a few years ago about the bipolar. I think I only truly understood the immensity of what that meant for him when this happened.

It feels so strange to have known that and not have understood more, or asked more, or listened more.

He was a very strong and functional person in a lot of the time, and it was possible to — if you didn't live with him or see him all the time, and the last few years when it was getting worse we lived in different places — I would hear about it, but he was also so good at being good when he was good.

I miss him. I miss his voice. I also think we're lucky there's so much of his work that's recorded and online. Someone could start learning with him today.

What he says about the goal of practice becoming your own teacher — it's much more literal now. When he said it's going to get real, I think it became very real with his illness. He wasn't doing it just because.

A lot was at stake for him, and he couldn't resolve it. And also he did — he resolved it over and over again for 42 years.

What are some questions you've been struggling with since he died?

How does he exist now? That's always a question with death.

There's also the question of how his work can continue. He was working on four books that were close to completion, several online courses. He was hugely productive. He had a huge community of thousands of people around the world.

How do these things continue? I think everyone is asking that right now.

The ingredients are there. I don't think he was the kind of teacher who made himself indispensable — he was always trying to do the opposite, to reach more people, so they can become their own teacher.

Another huge question that has been on my mind, and on so many people's, is the fentanyl crisis. So many people are dying.

Twenty-five hundred people died last year in Canada and the deaths are increasing. What are we going to do?

With files from Metro Morning